Inquiry backs unamended laws on Indigenous voice
A cross-party parliamentary committee has backed laws setting up a referendum to enshrine an Indigenous voice in the constitution.
The inquiry report, released three days earlier than expected on Friday, said the need for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is "unquestionable".
"Witnesses spoke about the 'torment of powerlessness', how it impacts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and threatens to affect their children's lives, and their children," the report said.
"They spoke about the potential for a voice to overcome this powerlessness."
While some witnesses raised concerns regarding certain aspects of the legislation, "the committee is satisfied that the constitution alteration is not only fit for purpose but also will enhance Australia's systems of governance and laws", the report said.
"The committee has only one recommendation: the passage of the constitution alteration, unamended."
Committee chair and Labor senator Nita Green noted the late Indigenous leader Yunupingu called for "an honest answer from the Australian people to an honest question".
"This is an honest question; it is now time for the Australian people to be given the opportunity to provide an honest answer," Senator Green wrote in the report.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said the committee report reflected the "overwhelming consensus of constitutional and legal experts".
"We look forward to the bill progressing through parliament and Australians having their say on constitutional recognition through an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice later this year," they said in a joint statement.
The bill is expected to be brought to a vote in the June parliamentary sitting ahead of a referendum between October and December.
Liberal members produced a dissenting report, arguing the committee had been hamstrung by a six-week timeframe and a lack of detail about how the voice might operate.
"However, the coalition will not stand in the way of Australians voting on the government's proposal," the members said.
"While the coalition does not support the proposal as presently drafted, it is right that Australians will have the final say on the referendum."
They made three suggestions, including not adopting the voice proposal "in its current form", amending the bill to address its "significant risks" and ensuring that Australians never again are asked to vote on constitutional change without "constitutional conventions or similar".
Nationals members said the bill should not be passed and that "all politicians should leave Canberra and visit those Indigenous communities and sit in town halls, missions and at campfires instead of relying on the advice of Canberra-based bureaucrats".
Liberal senator and voice supporter Andrew Bragg wrote a brief section in the report arguing the words "and the legal effect of its representations" should be added to the final part of the proposed constitutional change, which would "assure parliamentary supremacy".
Greens senator Dorinda Cox said the party was disappointed the bill did not refer to "First Nations", instead using the term "First Peoples of Australia", and would push to ensure Indigenous people were consulted on the final model of the voice.